What Child is This?
A Christmas sermon by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 12/24/00
How many pictures of Jesus have you seen this last week? Praise God, among all the Santa Claus’s and tinsel and advertisements and reindeer and presents and cards we still see some reminders of the reason for the season. But what do those pictures show? Probably most of the pictures you’ve seen are of the crčche: Jesus as an infant, in the manger or held by Mary, possibly with shepherds and wise men looking on; despite His stable surroundings the baby is plump and healthy, perfectly clean and comfortable.
I’m glad you’ve seen such pictures. They are good reminders that tomorrow we celebrate the birth of a baby, rather than celebrating Santa Claus. But who is this baby? Who is this child, held by Mary, worshiped by shepherds and wise men?
This morning we’ll give five answers to that question; to aid your memory, the answers will follow alphabetic order, B through F:
· Jesus as Baby
· Jesus as Creator
· Jesus as Dying Savior
· Jesus as Empowering Lord
· Jesus as Final Judge and Returning King
Jesus as Baby
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Luke chapter 2; we’ll read the first seven verses:
Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 NASB)
Look at verse 7: “She gave birth.” Mary, a young girl, a virgin, a woman who had never had sexual relations with a man, gave birth. The conception was a miracle – but there is nothing here in the text to indicate that the birth was anything other than the normal process of labor. Mary gave birth just as many of the women here this morning gave birth: her water broke, she began to have contractions, she felt overwhelmed by the process going on inside her body; her back hurt, there was pain and effort and sweat and pushing and stretching and burning – and then, finally, amazingly, this new little creature came forth from her body; a new creature covered with mucous and amniotic fluid and blood and vernix – hair (if any) plastered to his head, that head possibly misshapen from hours of pushing, his skin bluish in color until the first breath, and first cry. Mary gave birth – and the baby, Jesus, came into this world just as you and I, through His mother’s strong efforts, bloody, slippery – and yet beautiful.
The point of all this? Jesus was a baby – a normal baby, born in the normal way. Jesus was really human. Jesus was a baby who soiled himself, spit up, cried when He was hungry; He was completely dependent upon his parents for meeting His every need. He could do nothing for himself. With His little hands, he grasped fingers held out to Him. He couldn’t communicate at first except by crying. He took months to learn to crawl, and more months to learn to walk, and to speak. Jesus was a normal, human baby.
Secondly, Jesus was born to a poor family in especially difficult circumstances. While I am sure Mary and Joseph did their best to make their newborn comfortable, safe, and clean, no stable is a sanitary place. How far were they from water? How did they clean Him up after the birth? What did that manger look like – that manger that for years had been the repository of grass and hay falling out of the mouths of cows?
Third, Jesus was born with the appearance of illegitimacy. Few believed Mary’s story of the angel Gabriel; surely most of those who saw her pregnant assumed she became that way through the normal process. Indeed, this stigma of illegitimacy followed Jesus all his life; the Pharisees allude to it in John chapter 8.
Such was the baby Jesus. Fully human. A humble baby from a poor family. In most eyes, illegitimate.
Jesus as Creator
But the Bible tells us that Jesus was much more than a human baby. That normal human body contained the Creator of the world.
Please turn with me to the gospel of John; we’ll read the first three verses.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
John here purposefully echoes the first words in the Bible, in the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John 1:1 actually takes us back before Genesis 1:1, before creation – telling us that the Word already was, the Word was with God, the Word was God. But who is “the Word”? What does John mean by this expression?
John makes this perfectly clear in verse 14:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Word is Jesus. Jesus was God. Jesus was with God in the beginning. Now take a deep breath, and think about this as if you had never heard this concept before. That little baby, that child unable to take care of Himself, was God Himself. As Charles Wesley writes,
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel!
So Jesus is God incarnate. But there is more! John tells us that this same Jesus, this same one clothed with humanity, is the creator of everything! “Apart from Him, nothing came into being,” or as it reads in the NIV, “Without Him, nothing was made.”
Imagine this now: Those same infant hands which grasped Mary’s finger were the hands that created the myriads of stars; that same voice that cried out moments after birth was the voice that named each of those stars.
Let me tell you about one of those stars. The Pistol Star, near the center of our galaxy, emits in 6 seconds as much energy as our sun emits in a year. Its mass is more than 100 times that of our sun. Its diameter is about 200 million miles – in other words, if positioned at the center of our sun, the Pistol Star would more than fill our earth’s entire orbit.
Those infant hands of Jesus fashioned and made the Pistol Star.
Do you see? Do you comprehend? Oh! I want you to see the tremendous truth of the incarnation! We get so used to the words “Immanuel, God with us, God incarnate, God in the flesh” they role off our lips and we don’t begin to fathom what they mean. Think, now think! The One who made the Pistol Star became infinitesimal compared to it. The One who had all glory and power and purity and praise became despised, poor, needy, helpless; the One who was before the world began became – a tiny, seemingly insignificant speck in that world.
So Jesus the Baby is also Jesus the Creator. But there’s even more.
Jesus as Dying Savior
Let’s keep reading in Luke 2, beginning with verse 8:
8 ¶ And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger."
A little of the majesty of heaven – only a little – frightens the shepherds. So the angel tells them not to fear. Why? He has come to bring good news, not bad news! And this is good news not only for the shepherds, not only for the people of Israel, but for all people. What is the good news? “Today . . . there has been born for you a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord!”
Centuries and centuries before, the prophets proclaimed that God would send a Messiah to save His people. Now, at long last, that Messiah has been born! And that Messiah is not a political king, as so many expected, but instead is a Savior!
Footnote: After that proclamation, where do you think the shepherds expected to find this long-awaited Messiah? Probably in a palace somewhere, or among the rich and wealthy. So verse 12 must have been even more shocking than the first appearance of the angel: The Messiah, the Lord – lying in a feeding-trough for cows? This humble, poor baby – the Savior of the world?
So what does the angel mean when he says he brings good news of the birth of a Savior? This newborn baby will save us – from what? Please turn with me to 1 Peter 2:24:
[Christ] Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Jesus died on the cross. He bore our sins. Our sins were put on Him; His righteousness was put on us, was credited to us. So by His wounds we are healed.
So you see that baby in the manger did not grow to be a man who simply went around doing good deeds. He did not grow to be a man who simply healed a few hundred people from physical diseases – people who eventually died anyway. That baby did not grow to be only a great teacher, who had penetrating insight into human nature, and told us how to live. He did all those things – but much, much more. That baby, that human child, with all the cuteness and difficulties shared by all babies – that very person lived a perfect life, and then died terribly, cruelly, painfully on a Roman cross. And every pang of pain from the nails driving into his hands; every drop of blood caused by the thorns pressed into his skull; every stripe on his back from the whips of the floggers was caused by You and Me. And even more, God Himself, the second person in the Trinity, who was One with God from before the beginning of time, felt all the wrath of God, all the hatred of God for sin, fall upon Him. So the pain was physically excruciating, but also much more than physical. All the punishment we deserve for every evil deed we have ever done was laid on Jesus. The Babe in the Manger, the Creator of the World is the Dying Savior, dying that we might live.
Jesus as Empowering Lord
Can there be more than this? Praise God, there is even more. Jesus not only saves us from our sins, but He enables us to become His beloved people. Please turn with me to Galatians 2, verse 20. Paul writes:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
Jesus not only died on the cross; he rose from the dead. And now He takes up residence in the hearts of all His people, loving us, empowering us, enabling us to live righteous lives before Him.
So if the One who made the Pistol Star loves us – why should we worry about money for retirement?
If the One who created the Sun and the Moon, and knows the number of stars in the universe and the number of hairs on my head -- if this One lives in me – why should I worry about missing out on life, or losing my job, or about taking care of my family? The living, empowering Lord within us frees us from worries and frets, thereby allowing us to trust Him to provide for our every need – allowing us to be radically devoted to Him, and to live lives different from the world around us. He enables us to love the unlovable, to do the impossible.
Oh, there is so much more we could say here! But let us move on. We have seen that Jesus is:
· The Baby in the Manger
· The Creator of the World
· The Dying Savior, and
· The Empowering Lord
Jesus as Final Judge and Returning King
But the story does not end there. This same Jesus, creator yet infant, crucified yet risen, will return. And when He returns, He will come not as a weak, helpless infant, but as the Final Judge of all mankind. Please turn with me to Revelation chapter 19; we’ll begin reading with the 11th verse.
11 And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."
Who is the author talking about? He tells us in verse 13: “The Word of God.” The same Word we read about in the book of John: Jesus Himself.
But this is a very different picture of Jesus, isn’t it? Oh, He is glorious, and almighty, and all-powerful – more powerful than anyone ever has been or will be. We saw all that in John chapter 1. But here we see a different use of that power. Verse 11 tells us He comes judging and waging war. The same eyes that looked with love at Mary, the same eyes that wept over Jerusalem – those eyes now flame with fire as He comes in power and might to smite the nations, exhibiting the fierce wrath of God on all unrighteousness.
Now, you may wonder: Why is He coming in wrath? Didn’t we just say that He Himself bore the wrath of God, taking upon Himself all the sins of His people? Didn’t we just say that every cut of the whip, every rip of flesh in His hands served as punishment for our sins? So why is there any reason for God to display wrath, to judge sin? Didn’t Jesus pay the penalty for all the sins of the world?
Turn your page and let’s read from chapter 21.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, 4 and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." 5 And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He *said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." 6 And He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 "He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.
This is lovely! What a promise! He wipes our tears, He makes all things new, He brings an end to pain! But, my friends, we need to read the next verse.
8 "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Everyone will not be saved. Everyone will not share in the great joys described in the earlier verses. Thus, everything depends upon your being among the people in verses 3-7, and not among the people of verse 8. Everything. Nothing else matters in the end: Your education. Your job. Your income. Your house. Even your family.
Think now: Suppose you had a choice: poverty and suffering in this life and then life with God for all eternity as described in verses 3-7. That’s one choice. The second choice: having all the riches and pleasures the world has to offer, with everyone and everything at your beck and call – but at death you end up with the people of verse 8, in the lake of fire. What would you choose? Would anyone in his right mind choose the lake of fire?
So I say again, everything depends on this. It is absolutely vital for us to know how we end up with God wiping our tears away versus throwing us into the lake of fire. What is the difference between these two categories of people?
The answer is found throughout the Bible, but we’ll find it in this very text. Look again at verse 8: Who are these people whom God punishes? The author gives us a long list of sins, but foremost among them is the sin of unbelief! The unbelieving! The unbelieving are thrown into the lake of fire.
Now what about verses 3 to 7? Who are these people who become the bride of Christ, delighting in Him as a husband delights in his wife? Who are these people, who delight in God and become His people?
In contrast to the list of sins in verse 8, do verses 3 to 7 tell us “God brings to Himself those people who have never committed sin”? If that’s the message, we are all in trouble; for all of us are sinners.
But praise God, that is NOT what it says! What does it say? What is the requirement for being among these glorious people of God in verses 3-7?
Read verse 6 again: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to . . .” To whom? This is the key. “I will give TO THE ONE WHO THIRSTS!” And do we pay God anything for the water? No! He gives to us “from the spring of the water of life WITHOUT COST!”
So the requirement here is not sinlessness. The requirement is thirsting!
John Piper puts it this way:
If we only knew it, every one of us is stranded on an ice face in Greenland, and the wind is blowing fiercely. Our position is so precarious that even if we inhale too deeply our weight will shift and we will plunge to our destruction. God comes to us and says in that moment, “I will save you, and protect you from the storm. But there is a condition.” Your heart sinks. You know you can’t meet conditions. Your face is flat against the ice. Your fingernails are dug in. You can feel yourself giving way. You know that if all you do is move your lips you’re going to fall. You know that there is nothing you can do for God!
Then he speaks the gospel command: “My requirement,” he says, “is that you hope in me.” Now I ask, Is this not good news? What could be easier than to hope in God when all else is giving way? And that is all he requires. That’s the gospel.
Our God is a God who loves to save. He will never turn away the desperate people who call upon Him. Indeed, He displays what He is like – He glorifies Himself – when He bestows His great mercy on undeserving, weak, helpless sinners such as you and I.
So who is this Jesus whose birth we celebrate tomorrow?
My friends, in the end there are only two categories of people: Those who see Jesus as most precious above all else, the only source for satisfying their deep thirst – and those who don’t. Jesus offers you the greatest satisfaction imaginable: the opportunity to become what your Creator intended you to be, to fulfill all your potential – and most of all, the opportunity to delight in God and have Him delight in you for all eternity. This Christmas Eve, even today, will you hope in Him? Will you thirst for Him and Him alone? Will you turn your back on all the pseudo-pleasures this world has to offer and trust Him completely to watch over you and satisfy you and please you? Will you ask God to give you the greatest Christmas gift imaginable – the gift of an eternity of joy in His presence?
For Jesus is coming back. That is certain. For you, His return will either be the greatest delight imaginable, or a certain terrifying expectation of judgment. Which will it be?
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 12/24/00. The quote from John Piper is from The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God, Revised and Expanded Edition, (Multnomah, 2000), p. 199-200.
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